4 Chinese Herbs for Healthy Aging

By Norah Charles, MSOM, L.Ac. ~

Herbal medicine has been widely practiced in China for over two millennia. Many Chinese herbs we use today were first recorded as medicines in the ancient Chinese text The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica compiled around 200 BC. This book details specific uses for nearly 400 herbs, including a number of well-known plants like ginseng and ginger.

Chinese herbs are characterized by their taste and temperature, which indicate their medicinal function. The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica also categorized herbs by their gentleness and safety. Certain herbs should only be used in small doses and cannot be consumed over a long period of time without creating negative side effects.

Strong and caustic herbs aside, the safety and efficacy of many Chinese herbs are well documented. The following herbs only require a bit of knowledge to successfully incorporate them into your wellness plan. Best of all, each of these herbs can be purchased at your grocery store.

Mint: Mint is a cooling herb used to soothe upset stomach, especially after eating greasy, heavy food. It is most effective when brewed for 3-5 minutes in a mug with a lid on top. This stops the essential oils from escaping, which gives the tea its aromatic potency. Fresh or dried peppermint or spearmint are equally effective (and delicious!).

Ginger: Ginger is a warming herb that is also great for a disgruntled tummy. Unlike mint, which is used to neutralize rich foods, ginger is best for stimulating low appetite and calming nausea. Ginger tea can be brewed from fresh ginger root by simmering the herb in a covered pot on the stove for ten minutes. Dried ginger tea is also effective, but is much hotter than fresh ginger. Patients with ulcers or heartburn should avoid ginger tea to keep from aggravating gastric reflux.

Watermelon: Watermelon is a cooling herb used to combat dehydration and heat exhaustion. This sweet, juicy fruit is the perfect antidote to a parched throat and fatigue from a bit too much sun exposure. In Colorado, watermelon is a great food to incorporate throughout the day during the dry, hot summer months. Just remember: too much watermelon can lead to loose stools, so be cautious.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a warming herb used to aid the circulatory system and ease joint pain. It is a good herb for aches and pains that are worse during cold, wet weather. People with hot arthritis or gout should avoid cinnamon, as the added warmth will aggravate those conditions. Cinnamon can be sprinkled on food or brewed as a tea. Because of its warming nature, patients with ulcers, heartburn, or excessive thirst should avoid too much cinnamon.

Before using these plants medicinally, ask yourself if you feel hot or cold. If the weather outside is frigid and your arthritis is acting up, it’s safe to opt for a warming herb. By learning to use plants based on temperature, you will reduce your chances of unwanted side effects and expand your knowledge of Chinese herbal medicine.